In an excellently written article on the PBS MediaShift blog, author Jennifer Woodard Maderazo takes on a plan suggested by Estonion EU Parliament member Marianne Mikko. She suggests that, in the interest of preserving reliability and quality, all bloggers register themselves and identify their credibility, relationships, potential personal interests, all the while claiming that “we do not need to know the exact identity of the bloggers.”
I’ll spare you a recap of the entire article, but let’s think about this concept for a second, and what might happen if it were to be instituted. It would be nearly impossible to enforce this law, since as they say, on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. Credentials and identities can be easily faked, as with the fake Steve Jobs blog. Libel and copyright lawsuits follow, of course, and free speech is ultimately somewhat inhibited as a result, but in the end the efforts by a government body to regulate who can post what on the Internet is nothing more than a silly attempt at policing our intelligence.
It is up to us, the people who read blogs and otherwise surf the Web for content, to question the reliability of what we find. When you read a scholarly report, it is expected and suggested that you look at the citations and assess the source for yourself. When writing a paper of your own, you’re expected to assess your own sources. Why should it be any different for something you find on the Internet?
Regulation of the Web is a tricky topic. A conversation about free speech online easily turns to online child pornography and material that seems designed with malicious intent, such as instructions for how to make a bomb. (For the curious, see the results of a Google search for “free speech online” which results in over 10 million hits, and you can join the debate.) In the end, however, it is and always should be our responsibility to ask questions about the things we see and read both on the Internet and in the real world. It’s up to us to determine reliability and perform our own “due diligence” before accepting anything as gospel. Perhaps the efforts of Mikko and the EU Parliament would be better spent by investing in media literacy and the critical thinking skills that go with it.